Speaking the Truth in Love

In God’s Shadow (Sermon notes from 11/1/2015 evening service)


Considered in the light of Old Testament usage, a reference to the filling of the Spirit may bring to mind the mighty feats of Samson. The Bible says that “a young lion roared against him; and the Spirit came mightily upon him.” As easily as another man might tear the tender body of a baby goat, Samson ripped apart the lion with bare hands (Judg. 14:5-6).

Or the filling of the Spirit may evoke memories of prophets delivering messages directly from God. Joash, a young king of Judah, turned his back on the Lord. But “the Spirit of God took possession of Zechariah.” At an assembly of the people, this son of Jehoiada issued a ringing denunciation of the king’s folly (2 Chron. 24:20).

Isolated from their biblical context, do the words “filled […] with the Spirit of God” lead the average reader to think of casting precious metals, creating artistic designs, setting stones, or weaving? Does a reference to the filling of the Spirit make anyone think of Bezalel? Does a typical church-goer even recognize Bezalel’s name? Probably not.

The Work of Bezalel

Bezalel was the grandson of Hur (Exod. 31:1-2). When Israel fought Amalek in the desert, Moses held the rod of God in his hands. As long as he extended it, Israel prevailed. But whenever he lowered his hands, Amalek prevailed. Aaron and Hur helped secure victory for God’s people by seating Moses on a stone and holding up his hands (17:12).

It was Hur’s grandson who constructed the tabernacle. The author of Hebrews affirms that “when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, ‘See that you make everything according to the pattern which was shown you on the mountain’” (8:5). But Moses had no hand in the actual work of hammering, weaving, cutting stones, or embroidering. Moses himself recorded that “Bezalel the son of Uri, son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the Lord commanded” (Exod. 38:22).

Bezalel’s partner was Oholiab son of Ahisamach. Belonging to the tribe of Dan, Oholiab was a “designer and embroiderer” (Exod. 38:23). These two master craftsmen were assisted by “every able man” to whom the Lord gave “ability and intelligence to know how to do any work in the construction of the sanctuary” (36:1).

The Lord himself equipped Bezalel for the great task of tabernacle construction. “I have filled him with the Spirit of God,” the Lord said, “with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs” (Exod. 31:3-4). Indisputably, God was speaking of a supernatural gifting.

The Worth of Bezalel

Gifted people add beauty to the worship experience. Bezalel was to “work in gold, silver, and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood” (Exod. 31:4-5). God had filled him and Oholiab with “ability to do every sort of work done […] by an embroiderer in blue and purple and scarlet stuff and fine twined linen” (35:35). These vibrant colors, precious metals, and various textures suggest beauty (28:2).

Faithful congregations readily embrace both the demand for what is essential and an appreciation for what is beautiful. God’s people understand that the melody of the heart counts far more than harmony or pitch, but they revel in the joy of a special event that draws together a great number of truly talented singers. And the Lord’s people understand that the truth of the message is far more important than the eloquence with which it may be presented, but their hearts thrill to the power of a message delivered by a man of God gifted with remarkable speaking ability.

But gifted people thrive only if supported by the congregation. The Lord filled Bezalel “with the Spirit of God […] to devise artistic designs, to work in gold, silver, and bronze” (Exod. 31:3-4). Who was to supply these precious metals? Was Bezalel to fund the tabernacle out of his own pocket? No. The people of Israel “came, every one whose heart stirred him, and every one whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s offering to be used for the tent of meeting” (35:21).

Lack of congregational support renders a creative person ineffective. How does a woman with artistic talent make the church building more appealing to visitors if no decoration funds are made available? How encouraging is singing led skillfully but joined halfheartedly? How effective is a gifted teacher whom no one comes to hear?

God, of course, is the source of every natural gift. The Lord said that he had “given skill to all the craftsmen” (Exod. 31:6, NIV). Did God give artistic skill to Israel’s priests or shepherds? No. The Lord enhanced gifts already naturally present.

But natural gifts must never be understood as genetic accidents. When Moses argued at the burning bush that he lacked the eloquence required of a good leader, the Lord replied: “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him deaf, or dumb, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?” (Exod. 4:11). If God gives the gifts of speech, hearing, and vision, then surely he bestows creative talents too.

Mother Nature is not the giver of “natural” gifts. Father God deserves all the credit for every good thing. The Bible says that “every good endowment and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (Jas. 1:17).

God’s gifts call for a humble spirit. Moses records nothing about Bezalel’s attitude. But perhaps the character of the Exodus account itself is a fair reflection of Bezalel’s spirit. The main thing in Exodus 25-40 is the construction of the sanctuary, God’s portable house of worship. Bezalel’s own role is secondary.


The Hebrew name Bezalel means “in the shadow of God.” Bezalel served not only in God’s shadow but also in the shadow of men. Bezalel constructed the tabernacle, but Moses got the credit. For a few hours of one day, Hur held up the hands of Moses. The church remembers him every time a preacher encourages the congregation to “hold up the hands” of good men. But Hur’s grandson did tedious artistic work for months on end—only to be forgotten by all but the most studious Bible readers.

Probably, though, Bezalel was content to work in God’s shadow. He was serving the One who never forgets good. As the Spirit promises, “God is not so unjust as to overlook your work and the love which you showed for his sake in serving the saints (Heb. 6:10).

In the parable of the sheep and goats, the King commends his servants for doing everyday things (I was hungry and you bought my lunch, I was thirsty and you gave me a glass of water, I had nowhere to stay and you put me up, etc.). Perhaps the Lord’s list could be expanded a bit: “A commode in the men’s room was broken, and you fixed it without complaint. The education wing needed a facelift, and you painted it. Many guests were expected at the potluck, and you cooked all day in preparation for it.”

Modern preachers (just like the apostles before the cross) tend to measure greatness by their own standards. Therefore, a truly great servant in the church is a man standing in the pulpit. After all, Jesus himself was a preacher. Yes, for three years or so Jesus was a preacher. But was he a servant of the Lord before his ministry began? Of course he was! And what was he doing? Jesus was a carpenter. He designed things, built things with his hands, served God like Bezalel.

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